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Published on December 23, 2020

How To Parent An Only Child: 7 Essential Tips

How To Parent An Only Child: 7 Essential Tips

As a kid, my most far fetched fantasy was to be an only child—not an only child with my real parents but with imaginary parents who put me first in everything, spent all their money on me, and whose lives revolved around me.

I imagined that they would buy me horses, I would live in my own suite in a mansion, and I would have my own maid who would wait on me. Of course, my imaginary mother would be by my side day and night to grant my every wish and dote on me.

This fantasy was obviously far fetched. I grew up in a home with six kids. My parents were loving and wonderful. My fantasy life would have ruined me. I would not have learned life skills such as responsibility, sharing, giving to others, service of others, hard work, or selflessness.

Being an only child may be a dream for some. However, parents must be aware of some issues that are associated with raising a single child. Below are some essential tips for parents.

1. Avoid Overindulging or Spoiling the Child

One of the dangers of having an only child is spoiling them by giving them too much. It is easier to do this when there aren’t siblings in line wanting toys and gifts as well. Having one child makes it easy to overindulge them.

We can curb that tendency by setting limits. Determine how many gifts or a specific dollar amount for each holiday and stick to that limit.

You can also have them earn the things that they want. If they the newest video game, then have them do chores to earn money so they can earn it themselves. This can help delay gratification and teach them the value of earning something they desire.

2. Do Not Treat the Child Like a Fellow Adult in the Household

With only one child in the household, it becomes easy for parents to start treating them as an adult. Around age 8 or 9, many children show maturity and have adult-like behaviors. It becomes easy for parents to embrace this behavior because they understand it. However, the child is still a child, so they need to be treated as one.

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RaisingChildren.net explains that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed until adulthood.[1] Even teenagers will act impulsively because their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed.

Parents need to understand that impulsive behaviors happen with children because of this. So, we can’t expect children to be adults because they are not there yet in terms of development. Allow them to be children. They only get to be one once in their lives.

3. Socialize Your Child With Their Peers

A research article by Kitzman and Lockwood (2020) in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that children who grow up without siblings are less able to handle conflict with their peers.[2] This is likely attributed to not having regular conflict resolution activities with siblings.

Therefore, socialization with peers is of utmost importance. But even beyond that, parents should allow their children to resolve their own peer conflicts whenever possible. This will teach them how to get along with their peers and resolve conflicts on their own.

Often, parents want to protect their child and will interfere with peer interactions if they see their child is going to be emotionally hurt. Parents should teach their kids conflict resolution skills by talking about how to react in these situations. Teaching them how to deal with their peer conflicts and to only seek adult intervention when necessary (such as the risk of physical harm) is helpful to the child’s social skill development.

4. Set Realistic Expectations

When adults are only raising one child, they can have all of their hopes and dreams wrapped up in them. Parents should set realistic expectations. Children are individuals, and they are not you. They are their own person and as such, they have their own gifts, talents, and abilities that differ from your own. You should assess them on their own abilities, not yours.

Expecting a child to be a super sports star and bound for the ivy league may not be reasonable. Each of them is special and unique.

If someone has four kids, we may see one who excels at sports, another who excels at academics, another who is artistic, and another who is completely unknown in their talents and gifts because they are still young. With an only child, we can’t expect them to fulfill all the dreams, hopes, and ambitions that could fill an entire family of six.

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Seek to find out what your child may be good at in life. They may have certain activities that they excel in and others that they do not. Encourage them in all that they do, but don’t set expectations that are unreasonable and unattainable.

5. Give Them Chores to Teach Responsibility

Having one child makes it easier to do all the work in the household because it is doing laundry and cleaning up after for only one person.

Parents with three kids are more likely to require their children to chip in on household chores out of necessity. One parent can’t keep up with the messes and work involved with a bigger family.

Children who are the only child in a home must still be required to do chores. It will help them learn about responsibility. They will also learn practical life skills such as how to fold laundry, how to properly wash dishes, and how to vacuum and clean the home.

It can be empowering for them to do chores, especially if they are rewarded for extra chores so they can earn things that they want.

6. Don’t Be Their Constant Entertainment

Kids want attention and time from their parents. It is wonderful for parents to give this to their children, but there should be a balance.

If, for example, a stay at home mom has only one child, she is not expected to constantly entertain the child all day long. Parents need time to get their own work and housework completed, along with time for themselves.

It becomes easy for parents to feel guilty about not playing with their child enough, especially when the child is constantly asking for the parent to play. Parents should set reasonable expectations for their kids when it comes to entertaining them.

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For example, the stay-at-home mom may say to her only child, “I am going to play trains with you for 20 minutes and then you can play for 20 minutes on your own while I do the laundry.”

Finding playgroups or moms with children who are similar ages to your own child is helpful. This can help the child with the playtime that they naturally desire with others. When they don’t have peers or siblings to engage in play with, then they do depend on their parents to be their playmates.

Parents can find friends of their child’s own age to provide them with the engagement and play they need and want.

7. Find Activities to Engage Your Child With Their Peers

There was a window of time—before I had our twins and when our foster daughter was no longer living with us—when it was just our own daughter in our home. That was a great opportunity for me to get out of the house and find places and activities that would engage our daughter with her peers.

She was over a year old by that time, so she was ready to play with other children and have activities that would help with her development.

Library Story Time

One activity that we enjoyed was the library storytime. Most public libraries offer programs for parents and their kids. These storytimes often have stories being read along with additional activities that engage the children and require interaction with all of them together. Such activities we have done during the library storytime include parachute time and crafts.

If you are with your child at storytime and they are getting along with other children there, then take the opportunity to introduce yourself to their parent. You can even ask if they would like to get together at a local playground in the future since they play well together.

MOPS

Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) is an international organization. They typically meet at local churches and there are programs for the mothers while the children are cared for together in the nursery. This allows the children to play with their peers while moms can connect with fellow moms. You can find a MOPS group near you by going to the MOPS Website.

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Baby Gym

You can sign your little one up for baby gym classes. There are a variety of businesses that offer programs and classes that are geared specifically for babies, toddlers, and children. Some of these businesses include My Gym, The Little Gym, and Gymboree. These types of locations and the classes they offer provide a great opportunity for children to play with their peers as the classes are typically grouped by age.

Our family has attended classes at three different baby gym locations. My kids loved the activities and meeting with kids their own age. It was also how I met several of my closest friends when our family moved across the country. These ladies had kids the same age as mine, so I invited them to my home for a playdate. I had snacks for the children, coffee for the moms, and the kids had fun playing together in our playroom area.

Don’t miss opportunities to connect with parents who have kids the same age as your own child. You may create some friendships for life!

Other Classes

I have taken my kids to music classes and swimming classes. In both of these instances, they were able to connect with children their own age. Again, it is an opportunity to meet fellow parents, so you can arrange playdates or playground meet-ups with fellow parents who have children the same age.

Some other types of classes and activities that you may find locally—by googling your location and the type of activity—include kid’s yoga, “mommy and me” cooking classes, children’s museum programs, and baby sign language classes.

Final Thoughts

The biggest takeaway for parents raising an only child is understanding that their kid will need socialization with their peers. Since they don’t have any siblings, the parents must get their kids out of the house and find places where they can play with children their own age.

Parents can be intentional about this by seeking out activities and classes that are geared for their child’s age. Then, they can take that opportunity to connect with other parents so that playdates can set up with their new friends in the future.

More Parenting Tips

Featured photo credit: Danielle MacInnes via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on February 11, 2021

3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

I’m old enough to remember how the cane at school was used for punishment. My dad is old enough to think that banning corporal punishment in schools resulted in today’s poorly disciplined youth. With all of this as my early experiences, there was a time when I would have been better assigned to write about how to negatively discipline your child.

What changed? Thankfully, my wife showed me different approaches for discipline that were very positive. Plus, I was open to learning.

What has not changed is that kids are full of problems with impulses and emotions that flip from sad to happy, then angry in a moment. Though we’re not that different as adults with stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and stimulants such as sugar and caffeine in our diets.

Punishment as Discipline?

What this means is that we usually take the easy path when a child misbehaves and punish them. Punishment may solve an isolated problem, but it’s not really teaching the kids anything useful in the long term.

Probably it’s time for me to be clear about what I mean by punishment and discipline as these terms are often used interchangeably, but they are quite different.

Discipline VS. Punishment

Punishment is where we inflict pain or suffering on our child as a penalty. Discipline means to teach. They’re quite the opposite, but you’ll notice that teachers, parents, and coaches often confuse the two words.

So, as parents, we have to have clear goals to teach our kids. It’s a long-term plan—using strategies that will have the longest-lasting impact on our kids are the best use of our time and energy.

If you’re clear about what you want to achieve, then it becomes easier to find the best strategy. The better we are at responding when our kids misbehave or do not follow our guidance, the better the results are going to be.

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3 Positive Discipline Strategies for Your Child

Stay with me as I appreciate that a lot of people who read these blogs do not always have children with impulse control. We’ve had a lot of kids in our martial arts classes that were the complete opposite. They had concentration issues, hyperactive, and disruptive to the other children.

The easy solution is to punish their parents by removing the kids from the class or punish the child with penalties such as time outs and burpees. Yes, it was tempting to do all of this, but one of our club values is that we pull you up rather than push you down.

This means it’s a long-term gain to build trust and confidence, which is destroyed by constant punishments.

Here are the discipline strategies we used to build trust and confidence with these hyperactive kids.

1. Patience

The first positive discipline strategy is to simply be patient. The more patient you are, the more likely you are to get results. Remember I said that we need to build trust and connection. You’ll get further with this goal using patience.

As a coach, sometimes I was not the best person for this role, but we had other coaches in the club that could step in here. As a parent, you may not have this luxury, so it’s really important to recognize any improvements that you see and celebrate them.

2. Redirection

The second strategy we use is redirection. It’s important with a redirection to take “no” out of the equation. Choices are a great alternative.

Imagine a scenario where you’re in a restaurant and your kid is wailing. The hard part here is getting your child to stop screaming long enough for you to build a connection. Most parents have calming strategies and if you practice them with your child, they are more likely to be effective.

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In the first moment of calm, you can say “Your choice to scream and cry in public is not a good one. It would be best to say, Dad. What can I do to get ice-cream?” You can replace this with an appropriate option.

The challenge with being calm and redirecting is that we need to be clear-minded, focused, and really engaged at the moment. If you’re on your phone, talking with friends or family, thinking about work or the bills, you’ll miss this opportunity to discipline in a way that has long-term benefits.

3. Repair and Ground Rules

The third positive discipline strategy is to repair and use ground rules. Once you’ve given the better option and it has been taken, you have a chance to repair this behavior to lessen its occurrence to better yet, prevent it from happening again. And by setting appropriate ground rules, you can make this a long-term win by helping your child improve their behavior.

It’s these ground rules that help you correct the poor choices of your child and direct the behavior that you want to see.

Consequences Versus Ultimatums

When I was a child and being punished. My parents worked in a busy business for long hours, so their default was to go to ultimatums. “Do that again and you’re grounded for a week,” or “If I catch you doing X, you’ll go to bed without dinner”.

Looking back, this worked to a point. But the flip side is that I remembered more of the ultimatums than the happier times. I’ve learned through trial and error with my own kids that consequences are more effective while not breaking down trust.

What to Do When Ground Rules Get Broken?

It’s on the consequences that you use when the ground rules are broken.

In the martial arts class, when the hyperactive student breaks the ground rules. They would miss a turn in a game or go to the back of the line in a queue. We do not want to shame the child by isolating them. But on the flip side, there should be clear ground rules and proportionate consequences.

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Yes, there are times when we would like to exclude the student from the class, the club, and even the universe. Again, it’s here that patience is so important and probably impulse control too. With an attainable consequence, you can maintain trust and you’re more likely to get the long-term behavior that you’re looking to achieve.

Interestingly, we would occasionally hear a strategy from parents that little Kevin has been misbehaving at home with his sister or something similar. He likes martial arts training, so the parent would react by removing Kevin from the martial arts class as a punishment.

We would suggest that this would remove Kevin from an environment where he is behaving positively. Removing him from this is likely to be detrimental to the change you would like to see. He may even feel shame when he returns to the class and loses all the progress he’s made.

Alternatives to Punishment

Another option is to tell Kevin to write a letter to his sister, apologizing for his behavior, and explaining how he is going to behave in the future.

If your child is too young to write, give the apology face to face. For the apology to feel sincere, there is some value to pre-framing or practicing this between yourself and your child before they give it to the intended person.

Don’t expect them to know the ground rules or what you’re thinking! It will be clearer to your child and better received with some practice. You can practice along the lines of: “X is the behavior I did, Y is what I should have done, and Z is my promise to you for how I’m going to act in the future.” You can replace XYZ with the appropriate actions.

It does not need to be a letter or in person, it can even be a video. But there has to be an intention to repair the broken ground rule. If you try these strategies, that is become fully engaged with them and you’re still getting nowhere.

But what to do if these strategies do not work? Then there is plenty to gain by seeking the help of an expert. Chances are that something is interfering or limiting their development.

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This does not mean that your child has a neurological deficiency, although this may be the root cause. But it means that you can get an objective view and help on how to create the changes that you would like to see. Remember that using positive discipline strategies is better than mere punishment.

There are groups that you can chat with for help. Family Lives UK has the aim of ensuring that all parents have somewhere to turn before they reached a crisis point. The NSPCC also provides a useful guide to positive parenting that you can download.[1]

Bottom Line

So, there your go, the three takeaways on strategies you can use for positively disciplining your child. The first one is about you! Be patient, be present, and think about what is best for the long term. AKA, avoid ultimatums and punishment. The second is to use a redirect, then repair and repeat (ground rules) as your 3-step method of discipline.

Using these positive discipline strategies require you to be fully engaged with your child. Again, being impulsive breaks trust and you lose some of the gains you’ve both worked hard to achieve.

Lastly, consequences are better than punishment. Plus, avoid shaming, especially in public at all costs.

I hope this blog has been useful, and remember that you should be more focused on repairing bad behavior because being proactive and encouraging good behavior with rewards, fun, and positive emotions takes less effort than repairing the bad.

More Tips on How To Discipline Your Child

Featured photo credit: Leo Rivas via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NSPCC Learning: Positive parenting

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